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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

ILLEGAL EXPORTS GENERATED WMD FEARS

Mitutoyo execs receive suspended terms


Staff writer

The Tokyo District Court gave four former executives of precision instrument maker Mitutoyo Corp. suspended prison sentences Monday for illegally exporting devices that could aid the production of nuclear weapons.

Experts fear some of the devices found their way to North Korea and Iran.

Former Mitutoyo Vice Chairman Norio Takatsuji received a suspended three-year prison term for breaking the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Law by shipping three-dimensional measuring equipment overseas.

The presiding judge, Masahiro Hiraki, said in the ruling that the executives made profit their top priority at the Kanagawa Prefecture-based company, even though they were aware its products might be used by foreign governments to develop weapons of mass destruction.

"The crimes committed generated fear of nuclear proliferation," Hiraki said.

On trial with Takatsuji, 72, who was described as the organizer of the scheme, was former Mitutoyo President Kazusaku Tezuka, 68, who was given a suspended 32-month prison term.

Hideyo Chikugo, 67, a former executive in charge of export control screening, was handed a suspended 28-month term and Tetsuo Kimura, 65, the company's former factory chief, received 24 months, suspended.

Hiraki handed down suspended terms on the grounds that the accused had repented for their actions and quit the company.

Mitutoyo was also fined 45 million yen.

According to the ruling, the four arranged the export of five high-tech measuring devices to Malaysia and Singapore between 2001 and 2005 without getting authorization from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Mitutoyo deceived the Tokyo Customs Office by handing export applications that downgraded the capabilities of the machinery, the ruling said.

The measuring devices, which can perform detailed calculations of cylinders in centrifuges often used to enrich uranium, are essential to producing nuclear weapons.

According to prosecutors, an inspection team from the International Atomic Energy Agency came across a Mitutoyo device at a nuclear-related facility in Libya in 2003. Japanese investigators earlier said this was proof that some of the firm's exported devices were sold on the black market, adding that there was a possibility the devices may have been obtained by countries like Iran and North Korea for their nuclear programs.

The court said it was possible for Mitutoyo to foresee the possibility of its devices being diverted for use in nuclear programs, noting that the company sold its products without confirming the true identity of its clients or the final destinations for the exported devices.

At a court session in May, the prosecutors said the company's unlawful trade "damaged the international community's trust in Japan while ruining worldwide efforts to sustain peace and security."

Prosecutors alleged that Mitutoyo began exporting high-tech machinery without authorization as early as 1992, and that they sold about 10,000 similar devices without government approval to shorten delivery times.

They also alleged that a Libyan institute in 2004 contacted the company via e-mail and requested assistance in running the machinery — an indication that Mitutoyo executives knew their precision instruments had been resold to a third party.

The four executives, arrested last August, had pleaded guilty in the trial, which began in December.

A panel of experts working under METI proposed earlier this month that export control laws be strengthened and that illegal trade in high-tech devices convertible to military use be restrict by raising the fine for similar wrongdoings.

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